These days, you have to go to some lengths to bring home dramatic pictures of oft-photographed icons, like the moai of Easter Island, for instance. Seen ’em a million times in the daylight. But they’re in the dark at night, there’s no “son et lumiere” tourist light show, or even electricity out there. How do you light six 21-foot structures in the middle of nowhere?
You take that light waaaaay off camera.
My first instinct is to use a small flash, one of my Nikon SB 800 speedlights, and “paint” the statues with the flash during a long exposure. Trouble is, these are big statues and at twilight, when the sky is still a nice royal blue and you get good separation, you can’t keep the shutter open long enough to allow for the recycle times you’d run into without overexposing the sky and melting your flash unit.. Enter the flashlight on steroids, a million candlepower job I shoved in my suitcase before I left.
Available for about $20 at any hardware store, these babies put out some major light. They’re not too terribly big or heavy (but I did leave mine behind in E.I to lighten my load afterward). Look for a rechargeable model and if it has a cord to charge from a car’s cigarette lighter, all the better.
I wrapped some Blackwrap around the reflector to snoot it off a bit to prevent spill. Before I left Pennsylvania, I practiced lightpainting my two story stone house with the same flashlight, so by the time I got to Easter Island, I had a ballpark exposure for painting at twilight (30 seconds @f/5.6 at ISO 200 on a D200).
I set up the camera on a tripod with a cable release. Now, usually, I work alone, but my arms aren’t long enough for what had to be done here, and luckily I had a friend, photographer Marea Downey along. She tripped the camera’s shutter, while I stood in the middle of the line and painted the statues (she also took the following excellent picture showing my position).
At first I tried walking along and painting each statue individually, but I was blinded by the bright light and nearly broke my ankle in the rough footing. So I stayed put in the center. This way, the statues closest to the camera (and therefore the biggest) were short lighted (that is, the shadow side of the face is closest to the camera) while the further statues (and therefore smaller) are broad lit (lit from the front) which make them appear a little bigger. Love to take credit for realizing this ahead of time, but really I was just try to beat the fading twilight and not break my leg, proving once again that in travel photography, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good! (Or that luck favors the prepared…).